Norfolk’s strange stories and colourful characters come to life in new exhibition
PUBLISHED: 07:17 08 November 2018 | UPDATED: 08:38 08 November 2018
Copyright: Archant 2018
Norfolk can come across as a conventional county to the casual observer, but scratch the surface and you’ll find enough colourful characters, fantastic fables and strange stories to fill a gallery.
And that is exactly what artist Barrie Morris has done in an new exhibition at Holt’s Red Dot Gallery called Quirks and Quiddities of Norfolk.
After conceiving the idea with gallery owner Colin Rawlings, Mr Morris, 73, researched and embodied on canvas 20 bizarre tales for the show, which opens on Saturday.
The artworks reflect Mr Morris’s highly-detailed, eccentric style and feature everything from the fearsome hellhound Black Shuck, the World Snail Racing Championships at Congham Hall, to the tweedy Norfolk jacket.
Mr Rawlings dressed an another of Mr Morris’s subjects, the ‘Mad Hatter of Weybourne’, for the show’s launch.
This odd bird, whose real name was Patrick Townend, kitted out as the character from Alice in Wonderland to prank and jape his way around the north Norfolk coast in the 1970s, having swapped a ship-broking career in London for a life of ‘entertaining the people’.
Mr Rawlings said: “The collection shows just how many hidden secrets and facets there are of Norfolk as we steam past in our cars going from A to B.
“Behind the heavy hedgerows and behind every wall there’s a story to be told, and I think some of the stories that Barrie has unearthed in his investigations are absolutely amazing and quite unexpected.”
Mr Morris, who hails from Lincolnshire, said: “Some of these stories, like the ghost of Anne Boleyn at Blickling Hall and the Vicar of Stiffkey, we knew already. But a lot of them were new to us, like the lepidopterist Margaret Fountaine and the drummer boy of Potter Heigham.
“They’ve all been great to discover and I’m sure there’s a lot more out there.
“I think that the style I’ve come up with is pretty unique.”
They have also produced a Quirks and Quiddities of Norfolk book featuring each artwork and the tale behind it, which is available from the gallery on Holt’s Fish Hill, Jarrold in Norwich and online.
The exhibition is open daily until November 18. For more information, call 01263 710287.
Heart Neuveau: Jack Valentine of Norwich
Mr Rawlings said one of favourite pieces of art from Quirks and Quiddities of Norfolk is of Jack Valentine of Norwich, a mysterious spirit who haunts the city’s highways and byways.
The embodiment of virility and sensuality, Jack bestows romantic enchantments on those who truly believe in love each year on St Valentine’s Day.
But there is more to the legend of Jack, who can metamorphose into Old Father Valentine or Old Mother Valentine.
Petitioners can summon him using sorcery, an act best done at a place of power such as a crossroads, a stone circle or a ruined abbey.
The lovestruck must sit in quiet contemplation, visualising him as a stylish character with the charisma of the Greek god Pan, and start whispering the spirit’s name, building up to a fever-pitched chant.
Eventually, Jack Valentine will appear to grant the lover’s wish, and he appreciates rewards in cash, food, liquor and cigars.
Quirks and quiddities: Norfolk’s full of ‘em
Among the quirky tales brought to life in Mr Morris’s paintings are:
The Snap Dragon of Norwich: The city’s Guild of St George, founded in 1389, used to parade a dragon conga around Norwich on St George’s Day, with the dragon symbolising wickedness and, probably, paganism.
The Dragon Boy of Potter Heigham: A drummer from the village returned home before the Battle of Waterloo and nightly serenaded his love from his skates atop a frozen Hickling Broad - until the ice broke and he perished.
The Cawston Duel: The last to take place in Norfolk, this duel between two Tories in 1698 ended in an agonising death, an exile and a haunting.
Margaret Fountaine: This clergyman’s daughter born in South Acre travelled the world with her lover, a Syrian ‘dragoman’, a guide, for 28 years collecting butterflies.
The ghost of Anne Boyeln: The spirit of Anne, who was born at Blickling, is said to have returned home after she lost her head to Henry VIII.